Monday, August 18, 2008

Santa Evita - Argentine novel by Tomas Eloy Martinez

This is the story of Eva Peron after her death. Yes, it is about the life-story of her corpse. The embalmed body of Evita had an eventful journey for 22 years as she had in her real life journey of 33 years. She was a political figure for six years as the wife of Peron but her corpse had influenced Argentine politics for over two decades and created a bizarre history, becoming part of the Argentine mythology. Evita died in 1952 but her body was kept waiting for three years for the construction of a monument, which was never built. In 1955 the military overthrew Peron and hid the body for ninteen years. It was brought back from a cemetry in Milan for proper burial in Recoleta cemetry in Buenos Aires in 1974.

The military dictatorship tried to hide the embalmed body to prevent it from becoming a rallying point against the regime. Col Moori Koenig from the military intelligence service is given the responsibility. He moves it from one hiding place to another in Buenos Aires city. But he and his colleagues involved in this venture, as well as their families meet with one disaster after another. He, as well his accomplices, who hated Evita when she was with Peron , are hipnotised by the body and become obsessed with it. They get emotionally attached to the corpse and reach a stage when they cannot live without the body.

The Spanish embalmer Dr Ara, who is contracted to embalm the body of Evita is also obesessed with the body in another sense. He considers the embalmed corpse as his master piece of art and is more possessive of it than the family of Evita. He makes some extra copies of the wax body to mislead others. This was the first challenge for col Koenig to identify the correct one.

The miltary dictatorship forbade any public reference to Peron or Evita. How did they call Evita´s corpse and refer to her in their internal conversations and correspondence.. mare, the person, deceased, that woman...

At the same time, fanatic supporters of Evita, calling themselves as the Commando of Vengence, manage to track down the hiding points and put flowers and candles next to the coffin, despite the extraordinary security cordon.

Finally the body is sent out of the country to a cemetry in Milan, while copies of the body are sent to other European cities to mislead those trying to track it.

The author Tomas Eloy Martinez has used ¨magical realism¨to tell the story. He weaves facts and fiction in and out and one does not know what is real and what is imagined. In any case, the way Evita´s body was dealt with by her supporters and opponents is like a mystery thriller fiction. Martinez has added more mystery by his story-telling. Sometimes it reads like the compilation of his own real efforts to uncover the secrets of disappearance of the body. Besides the corpse story, the author has also brought out excerpts from the life of Evita based on interviews with her butler, hair dresser and others associated with her closely. But one is not sure whether these were factual or fictional.

The author, like many other Argentine and Latin American writers, was forced to exile in 1975. He lives in USA.

Does the story of the afterlife of Evita sound like the incarnation belief in India ? Sure.. there is as much mystery and magic in this real life story as in the Indian mythologies. No wonder there are thousands of Argentines who are followers of Indian Gurus and spiritualism. I do not get surprised when some of them tell me seriously that perhaps their last incarnation was in India !

Tomas Eloy Martinez has revived my interest in Argentine literature. My experience with the other Argentine authors is mixed. Or to put it more candidly, I got confused after reading some of the works of Borges, Julio Cortazar and Luisa Valenzuela and could not finish some of them.

Now, for the real story of Evita´s corpse, the readers can see my 2006 blog entry,

1 comment:

Asian Indian said...

very moving and intersting story,